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Headlines for Friday, February 23, 2024

A graphic representation of eight radios of various vintages, underneath the words "Kansas Public Radio News Summary"
Emily Fisher

Kansas Republicans Introduce Bills Placing More Restrictions on Abortion

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) Pregnant women in Kansas would have to get an ultrasound before having an abortion under a bill introduced by Republican lawmakers. Its one of two abortion restrictions introduced this week. Abortion opponents say an ultrasound can help detect potential safety risks before an abortion. But critics call the bill an extreme attempt to interfere in private medical decisions. Lawmakers can't ban abortion because of protections in the state constitution, but they can still try to restrict the procedure. Another bill would establish a felony offense for coercing someone to obtain an abortion.


Man Taken into Custody After Lawrence Woman Found Stabbed in Tent

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KCTV) - A man has been detained in Lawrence after a woman was found dead with multiple stab wounds in her tent. KCTV reports the Lawrence Police Department says that around 4:20 a.m. on Thursday, law enforcement officials were called with reports of a medical emergency. Officers arrived in the 100 block of Maple, just north of the city’s sanctioned camp area, and found a woman with apparent stab wounds. She was pronounced dead at the scene. The Lawrence Police Department has confirmed the identity of the woman as Crystal White, 51, of Lawrence. Later Thursday morning, police said a person of interest was found in Burcham Park and detained. Investigators continued to speak with witnesses while the person of interest was brought to police headquarters. LKPD says its investigation will continue, and officials do not believe there is an ongoing danger directly related to the crime.


More Naloxone Vending Machines Coming to Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) - Free naloxone vending machines are being placed across Kansas to combat the growing number of opioid overdoses. The vending machines are one of the latest tools used to distribute the lifesaving medicine that reverses an opioid overdose. Machines were installed in Reno County and downtown Wichita. Residents can access the naloxone by simply inputting their ZIP codes into a keypad. Brian Baier, with Blue Cross Blue Shield, says in Kansas, nearly 400 people die of an accidental opioid overdose a year. “Behind that statistics, those are, those are sons, daughters, parents, neighbors," he said. "We all know somebody who has been afflicted.” Another vending machine is located in Douglas County at the Lawrence Transit Center. More machines are expected in northeast Kansas and Crawford County in the southeast part of the state.


Wildfire Season Underway in Kansas

LIBERAL, Kan. (KNS) – Kansans are entering wildfire season, with a grass fire this week in the southwest part of the state consuming more than 350 acres in Meade County. The Kansas News service reports that the season usually peaks in February and early March, when all of the moisture from January has dried up, leaving vegetation ready to burn. However, the state is experiencing more fires outside of the traditional wildfire season because of a changing climate. Aaron Williams, fire management officer for the Kansas Forest Service, says fires are most often accidental. “Our wildfire problem in Kansas is very much a human behavior problem. Over 95% of our wildfires are started by people,” he added. Williams says keeping your vehicle and farming equipment in check can help reduce the chances of a spark causing an uncontrolled fire, especially with high winds.


Kansas Bill Would Allow More Choices for Foster Care Teens

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas teenagers in foster care may soon be able to choose relatives or close friends to become their custodial parents. The Kansas House has approved a bill that would give foster children over the age of 16 a new option for a permanent home. The measure would allow the teens in Kansas foster care to choose multiple adults to serve as a custodian. And also would require the teen's consent to the arrangement. Older foster children can be placed with foster parents or adopted. But many children end up bouncing around homes and aging out of care without being adopted. Republican Representative Susan Concannon says the change would provide foster children a stronger support system and a better future. “And to become productive members of a much needed workforce and to develop healthy families of their own," she said. Republican Representative Sandy Pickert says the children who age out of foster care are at a disadvantage. “How many 18-year-olds do just fine without going back home to mom and dad and asking for help? It just doesn't happen," she said. Supporters say Kansas would be the first state to establish this arrangement. The bill now heads to the Kansas Senate.


Big Shoe Giveaway in Ottawa Helps Grade School Kids at Seven Elementary Schools

OTTAWA, Kan. (KPR) - If the shoe fits... wear it. More than a thousand grade school students in Franklin County (Kansas) are getting a free pair of name-brand shoes. The giveaway is part of a joint effort by AdventHealth Ottawaand a non-profit called "Shoes That Fit." CEO Amy Fass says the big shoe giveaway took place Friday morning at Lincoln Elementary, where every child's foot had already been measured. "We're also gonna' be sending shoes to about seven different elementary schools, to the kids most 'in need' at those schools. But at Lincoln, we're actually just doing a big party. Every student is gonna' get a pair of brand-new shoes and socks," she said. In all, more than 1,100 students at Franklin County grade schools will each be getting new shoes and five new pairs of socks. Fass says shoes are more important than most people think. "For kids that don't have shoes that fit, it causes a lot of shame and pain. Discomfort. We know of kids who have skipped school just because they didn't have appropriate shoes," she said. For more information on the program, visit ShoesThatFit.org.


Koch Industries Fertilizer Plant Deal Raises Monopoly Concerns

UNDATED (HPM) – Koch Industries announced late last year a 3.6 billion dollar deal to buy a fertilizer plant in Iowa. Harvest Public Media reports that some agricultural leaders worry that could create a monopoly. The purchase of the Iowa Fertilizer Company is still awaiting federal review before the deal closes. A spokesperson for the USDA says when dominant middlemen control so much of the fertilizer supply chain, producers and consumers “bear the brunt.” Jason Sporrer is a sales manager for a CO-OP that serves western Iowa. He says when the Iowa Fertilizer Company opened in 2017, it brought more competition to the marketplace, but that in his opinion, “...some of that now is going by the wayside.” Democrats in the Iowa statehouse also have questions about the acquisition. They want federal and state regulators to investigate the impact consolidation would have on prices and the 260 employees of the facility.


EPA Announces Changes to Seasonal E-15 Fuel Sales Restrictions for 8 Midwestern States

UNDATED (HPM) – Eight Midwestern states, including Missouri, will be able to sell E-15 year-round starting next year. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the move Thursday. Harvest Public Media reports that ethanol advocates say the decision is an economic boost for Midwestern farmers and motorists. Governors of Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin asked for the change back in 2022. Lindsay Mitchell with the Illinois Corn Growers Association says the EPA announcement is a win for producers. "It’s really so important for corn farmers and for the ethanol industry to have some sort of certainty — and at least we have that going forward," she explained. Previously, the EPA had banned E-15 sales during the summer months. That’s out of environmental concerns that ethanol produces more smog at higher summer temperatures. Some environmental advocates say the move is a step in the wrong direction.


Kansas Silent Film Festival Underway in Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - The 27th annual Kansas Silent Film Festival begins Friday afternoon in Topeka. The event features silent comedy and dramatic films with LIVE musical accompaniment. The festival runs Friday and all day Saturday at White Concert Hall at Washburn University. More information is available at KSsilentFilmFest.org.


Folk Alliance Conference Comes to Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KPR) - Over the next few days, parts of downtown Kansas City will be filled with the sounds of banjos, guitars and mandolins. The Kansas City based Folk Alliance International is hosting its annual conference at Crown Center. Thousands of musicians and bands are expected to attend. The focus of the 36th annual Folk Conference is to “present, promote and preserve” folk music. That term has expanded over the years to include many diverse sub-genres including blues, bluegrass, Americana, Celtic, zydeco and numerous global music styles. More than 2,000 public and private performances are on the schedule. Organizer Jennifer Roe says the conference offers unique networking opportunities. “Whether it's finding a new agent, or manager, or just collaborating with other artists and, of course, finding folks to put them on a stage," she said.

The conference features panel discussions and a keynote address by Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary. Most of the conference is only for industry professionals but this year, a limited number of tickets are available for the general public. The conference runs through Sunday at Crown Center. Find more information at folk.org.


Johnson County, Kansas Has Shredded Old Ballots as Required by Law, Despite State Attorney General and Sheriff Demands to Save Them

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The most populous county in Kansas has rejected demands from the local sheriff and the state's attorney general to preserve old ballots and records longer than legally allowed, shredding materials sought for an election fraud investigation that has yet to result in any criminal charges.

Johnson County in the Kansas City area issued a statement Thursday that its election office finished Wednesday destroying ballots and other records from 2019, 2020 and 2021, under the direction of the secretary of state, the top elections official in Kansas. State law directed local election officials to shred such materials by the fall of 2022, but the Johnson County election office held off because of an investigation its local sheriff, Calvin Hayden, launched in the fall of 2021.

Hayden, a Republican, has questioned the integrity of the county’s 2020 elections even though there's been no credible evidence of significant problems and none statewide. In the summer of 2022, he also participated in a conference for a group that promotes a dubious theory that sheriffs have virtually unchecked power in their counties.

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach sent the county a letter in December, telling it that it should preserve the records, saying that allowing Hayden to complete his investigation would promote public confidence in elections and would be “in the interests of justice.” Kobach, also a Republican, was an early supporter of former President Donald Trump who has for years described election fraud as a serious issue. Kobach also served as secretary of state from 2011 through 2018.

But the county's brief statement said that its election office did the required shredding in the presence of a bipartisan team of observers and “in compliance with Kansas statute.” Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab's office said in a statement that there was no legal barrier to the destruction of the materials.

“All 105 Kansas counties are now in compliance with state law regarding ballot retention and destruction,” the statement said. “Legal compliance has always been a priority for the Secretary of State’s office.”

Schwab also is a Republican but he has strongly defended the integrity of Kansas elections, receiving criticism from lawmakers and others who've embraced baseless election conspiracy theories.

Hayden has said he received scores of tips about potential irregularities starting in the fall of 2021, and his office said in December that the investigation was still ongoing. He did not have an immediate comment Thursday, though his office said he planned to respond.

Kobach's office also did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Hayden is elected independently from the county commission. Under Kansas law, the secretary of state appoints election commissioners in each of the state's four most populous counties, and Schwab appointed Johnson County Election Commissioner Fred Sherman.

Andy Hyland, a spokesperson for the county, said that after December, it had not heard further about the old ballots and records from either Hayden or Kobach.

Kansas law requires election officials to destroy the ballots for local elections after six months unless a result still is being contested. Ballots in state and national elections must be destroyed after 22 months. Under those rules, all ballots for 2020 and 2021 were to be destroyed as of September 2022.

But baseless conspiracy theories have circulated widely among Republicans since the 2020 elections and prompted the GOP-controlled state Legislature to tighten election laws in the name of restoring public confidence.

Trump also continues to falsely claim that he won the 2020 election, and Hayden has said he began to question the previously solidly Republican county’s elections when Trump lost there. The county’s politics have become more Democratic over time — in part because of some suburban voters’ distaste for Trump.

While secretary of state, Kobach served as the vice chairman of a short-lived Trump presidential commission on election fraud. He also championed tough voter ID laws, one of which required new voters to show papers documenting their U.S. citizenship when registering and was struck down by the federal courts.


Cleats Left Behind After Jackie Robinson Statue Was Stolen to Be Donated to Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

UNDATED (AP) – The bronze Jackie Robinson cleats that were left behind when a statue of the first player to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier was stolen from a Kansas park are being donated to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Thieves cut the statue off at its ankles last month, leaving only the feet behind at McAdams Park in Wichita. About 600 children play there in a youth baseball league called League 42. It is named after Robinson’ s uniform number with the Brooklyn Dodgers, with whom he broke the major leagues’ color barrier in 1947.

Bob Lutz, executive director of the Little League nonprofit that commissioned the sculpture, said the museum in Kansas City, Missouri, was “enthusiastic” about incorporating the cleats into its display on Robinson.

The display also includes a damaged plaque honoring Robinson. The sign was erected in 2001 outside the birthplace of Robinson near Cairo, Georgia. Community members there discovered last year that someone had shot the plaque multiple times.

“It’s kind of sad in its own way, that we’re building this little shrine of Jackie Robinson stuff that has been defaced or damaged,” said Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. “But it gives us an opportunity to speak to who he was, the characteristics and value of what he represented, even in the face of adversity. And that message really never goes out of style.”

Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, paving the way for generations of Black American ballplayers. He’s considered not only a sports legend but also a civil rights icon. Robinson died in 1972.

Fire crews found burned remnants of his statue five days after the theft while responding to a trash can fire at another park about 7 miles (11.27 kilometers) away. One man was charged this month in the theft. Police said there was no evidence it was a hate-motivated crime, but rather the intent was to sell the metal for scrap.

Donations poured in after the theft, totaling around $300,000, Lutz said. The amount includes a $100,000 gift from Major League Baseball.

Lutz, whose friend, the artist John Parsons, made the statue before his death, said the mold is still viable and anticipated that a replacement can be erected within a matter of months. He estimated it would cost around $45,000 to replace the statue itself. While there also will be security and lighting expenses, that leaves lots of extra money that can be used to enhance some of the league's programming and facilities, Lutz said.

“It’s just amazing how many people are interested in this story,” Lutz said.


This summary of area news is curated by KPR news staffers. Our headlines are generally published by 10 am weekdays and are updated through 7 pm. This ad-free news summary is made possible by KPR members. Become one today. And follow KPR News on Twitter.